LeBron James believes the Cavaliers are 'destined for greatness'
Seven games into their 2016 playoff run, the Cleveland Cavaliers have yet to lose. And that has LeBron James feeling pretty good about his team.
After the Cavs came back from a fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 on Friday night, James flat-out said that Cleveland is "destined for greatness":
“We’re a team that’s destined for greatness, and I really believe that. And we have a mission, you know, and we have another chapter and our goal’s on Sunday. So we look forward to the challenge."
We can't see into the future, so we don't know whether James is right or wrong. One thing's for certain, however -- the Cavaliers are one of the NBA's teams of the future.
It was absurd for the Hawks to complain about the Cavs being "unprofessional" when they set the single-game record for 3-pointers in Game 2. Beyond, you know, stopping Cleveland if it offended Atlanta that badly, there was a much larger issue at hand. The Cavaliers, like the Warriors in the Western Conference, are playing the game the way it's currently meant to be played.
Just five years ago, the league had yet to come to terms with the power of the triple. Then the upstart Dallas Mavericks shifted a large portion of their field goal attempts to behind the line, and they in turn vanquished LeBron's Heat in the NBA Finals. It marked the end of an era, the so-called death of the midrange game.
That tectonic shift in the NBA landscape hasn't slowed. Every season brings more 3-point attempts than the year before it across the league. Stephen Curry keeps breaking his own records. The Cavs became the first team to make 20 3s in back-to-back games. On and on it goes; the milestones tell the story of a league falling in love with the long ball. There's a reason for that: the 3-pointer is incredibly valuable, second only to a dunk or free throws from a good shooter.
The @cavs are the 1st team in NBA history (regular season or playoffs) with at least 20 3-pointers in consecutive games.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 7, 2016
The 3 allows teams to come back from deficits in a heartbeat, as Cleveland did Friday. And once a team has a lead, a well-timed barrage from downtown is often all it takes to put the result out of reach. That too happened for the Cavs against the Hawks. Once the ball got rolling, Cleveland became unstoppable.
Now, like the Mavs before them, the Cavs stare into the future of the game. The average NBA team attempted right around 24 3-pointers per game in 2015-16; Cleveland, conversely, was third in the league with just shy of 30 attempts per contest. Both the league and the Cavs could stand to take even more 3s -- and as coaches come around to how good their players really are, we should see the rest of the league catch up.
The dirty little secret is that the NBA is limiting its shooters. While not everyone needs to be Stephen Curry with an ultra-green light, there's room for basketball's skilled shooters to take more shots from deep. Fifty-eight players -- or nearly one out of every eight NBA players in all -- shot at least 37 percent on 150 or more 3s this season. That's the equivalent of a guy shooting 55.5 percent on twos. If you had a player who could guarantee you that kind of accuracy, you'd give him the ball a pretty large portion of the time you have it. Yet only 26 of those players took more than 300 3s.
Some of that is a limited skill set in other areas, to be sure. But that's missing the point, too. Channing Frye is by no means an outstanding defender, and his rebounding comes and goes. But on Friday, he went off for 27 points, because the Cavs allowed him to be himself. It's truly that simple.
It helps, of course, to have one of the best players in the league, as the Cavs do. But Cleveland is helping itself by putting its best players on the floor together, regardless of position, and letting their skill and cohesion make up for any shortcomings. That's where basketball is trending. The Cavs, like their fellow championship contenders, are simply smart enough to get ahead of the curve. Combining such prescience with the talent this team has is a scary proposition.
If LeBron's Cavs are to achieve the greatness he claims they're destined for, they're taking the right approach. It's not about trying to beat the Warriors at their own game or anything so cliche. All Cleveland's doing is playing the best basketball it can.